Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins Today

I haven’t talked much about the tribunal, largely because while I think a good tribunal would be truly beneficial for Cambodia, this tribunal, it is increasingly clear, is little more than another fig leaf for a political regime. The last one was a fig leaf for the recent invading Vietnamese; this one is a fig leaf for the international donor countries, some of who re-armed the Khmer Rouge in the eighties, while allowing their representatives to retain their seat in the UN.

My anger and disappointment about this entire thing is nearly incandescent.

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François Bizot, one of the greatest academic authorities on Cambodian Buddhism, has a somewhat more measured statement on the beginning of the trial. One of Duch’s few survivors, Bizot was held in a prison camp by Duch north of Siem Reap prior to the victory of April 17, 1975, and was one of the only prisoners of that camp released. He has told his story in the bestselling book The Gate. His opinion piece in today’s New York Times deals with Duch as his own personal savior (insofar, I suppose, as Duch released him) and as a murderer of tens of thousands, in his capacity as the head of S-21. It’s definitely worth reading.

AFTER 10 years of detention, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, is to appear today before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in 1999, after 20 years of living incognito, for crimes committed on his orders as commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people.

Bizot, “My Savior, Their Killer.”

Also note that finally (FINALLY), a history of the Khmer Rouge period will be returned to the curriculum of Cambodian students, something which has been nonexistent for years (history ended in 1974). I have actually interviewed a man intimately connected with the destruction of the older, early PRK-era textbooks which did discuss the Khmer Rouge. There is no escaping of the fact that all these histories will be imperfect, intended to fit one political agenda or another, but the mere fact that the Khmer Rouge will be discussed in high school curriculum at all is already a major change.


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